Journal of Katherine Mansfield
“Et pourtant, il faut s'habituer à vivre,
Même seul, même triste, indifférent et las,
Car, ô ma vision troublante, n'es-tu pas
Un mirage incessant trop difficile à suivre?”
[The stories referred to in the following note were, so far as I know, never finished. All that remains of them is a page of MS. from “Geneva.” I do not understand the whole of the note, which is written in the compressed and cryptic manner Katherine Mansfield sometimes used in sketching out stories. The little boy's remark about the teapot and the kitten appears in “Mr. Reginald Peacock's Day,” Bliss p. 205.]
Tchehov makes me feel that this longing to write stories of such uneven length is quite justified. Geneva is a long story, and Hamilton is very short, and this ought to be written to my brother really, and another about the life in New Zealand. Then there is Bavaria?” Ich liebe Dich, Ich liebe Dich,” floating out on the air … and then there is Paris. God! When shall I write all these things and how?page 66
Is that all? Can that be all? That is not what I meant at all.
Tchehov is quite right about women; yes, he is quite right. These fairies in black and silver—“and then, tearing down the road, her long brown fur blowing behind her, brushing the leaves with her trailing skirt, crying: of course he was awfully sorry that she did not get satisfaction, just as he would have been awfully sorry if she hadn't liked strawberries and cream—Friday—Friday—he could not get the word out of his head … and before him stood the little man with his hair neatly combed, saying: ‘Please take something to eat!”’ But I cannot believe that at this stage of the proceedings something pretty extraordinary did not happen. I sat with my back to no-one.
T.F.; M.F. This woman I know very well—vain, eager, beautiful, désenchantée, an ‘actress.’
“I can put a little child's bed into the corner.”
“Which do you like best, Daddie,—cats or dogs?”
“Well, I think I like dogs best, old chap.”
“I don't: I'd like to have a kitten about as big as a little tea-pot.”
One character, of the man, rather beats me. I want a very quiet man, absorbed in his work, who, once he realised—really realised—that his wife had married him for her own ends, had no more to do with her, but still loved her and adored the child. It is all a bit difficult to write, but awfully fascinating, and should not be at too great length.page 67
Does this pen write? Oh, I do hope so. For it's really beastly to have a pen that doesn't. And then a clergyman goes up to him and says he has lost the tails off his sheep. Well, it's a comic! You see?
August 21. 141A Church St., Chelsea. I came home this afternoon and F. came in. I was standing in the studio, someone whistled on the path. It was he. I went out and bought some milk and honey and Veda bread. By and by we sat down and had tea and talk. This man is in many ways extraordinarily like me. I like him so much; I feel so honest with him that it's simply one of my real joys, one of the real joys of my life, to have him come and talk and be with me. I did not realise, until he was here and we ate together, how much I cared for him—and how much I was really at home with him. A real understanding. We might have spoken a different language—returned from a far country. I just felt all was well, and we understood each other. Just that. And there was ‘ease’ between us. There is a division: people who are my people, people who are not my people. He is mine. I gave him for a pledge my little puddock.1
When we walked out I saw the sky again after all the day's blindness—little clouds and big clouds. We said good-bye at Vinden's. That is all. But I wanted to make a note of it.page 68
They meet and just touch.
They come together and part.
They are separated and meet again.
They realise their tie.
Alors, je pars.
It is astonishing how violently a big branch shakes when a silly little bird has left it. I expect the bird knows it and feels immensely arrogant. The way he went on, my dear, when I said I was going to leave him. He was quite desperate. But now the branch is quiet again. Not a bud has fallen, not a twig has snapped. It stands up in the bright air, steady and firm, and thanks the Lord that it has got its evenings to itself again.
A Shilling gone Bust.
A knock at the door. Two sisters of Nazareth—one, rather pretty and meek, in the background, attending; the other very voluble and fluent, her hands in her sleeves. When she smiled, showing her pale gums and big discoloured teeth I decided that I had quite got over my sentimental feeling about nuns. She was collecting for their home for little children. All sorts of little children were admitted except those suffering from infectious diseases or subject to fits. I wondered what would happen if one developed fits after admittance and decided that I should have the most realistic fit the moment the Nazarene door shut on me…. I remember you well from last year, said the nun. But I wasn't here last year. page 69 Ah, people change so quickly, said she. Yes, but perhaps their faces don't, said I, seriously, giving her the shilling I was just going to put into the gas meter. I wish I had put it into the gas meter five minutes before….
Even if I should, by some awful chance, find a hair upon my bread and honey—at any rate it is my own hair.
Beware of the Rain!
Late in the evening, after you have cleared away your supper, blown the crumbs out of the book that you were reading, lighted the lamp and curled up in front of the fire, that is the moment to beware of the rain.
E. M. Forster.
Putting my weakest books to the wall last night I came across a copy of “Howard's End” and had a look into it. But it's not good enough. E. M. Forster never gets any further than warming the teapot. He's a rare fine hand at that. Feel this teapot. Is it not beautifully warm? Yes, but there ain't going to be no tea.
Love and Mushrooms.
If only one could tell true love from false love as one can tell mushrooms from toadstools. With mushrooms it is so simple—you salt them well, put them aside and have patience. But with page 70 love, you have no sooner lighted on anything that bears even the remotest resemblance to it than you are perfectly certain it is not only a genuine specimen, but perhaps the only genuine mushroom ungathered. It takes a dreadful number of toadstools to make you realise that life is not one long mushroom.
Babies and the dear old Queen.
Whenever I see babies in arms I am struck again by their resemblance to the dear old Queen. They have just the same air of false resignation, the same mournful, regal plumpness. If only her Majesty had deigned to be photographed in a white woollen bonnet with a little frill of eiderdown round it there'd be no telling the difference. Especially if she could have been persuaded to sit on Grandpa Gladstone's knee for the occasion.
Dreams and Rhubarb.
My sticks of rhubarb were wrapped up in a copy of the Star containing Lloyd George's last, more than eloquent speech. As I snipped up the rhubarb my eye fell, was fixed and fastened, on that sentence wherein he tells us that we have grasped our niblick and struck out for the open course. Pray Heaven there is some faithful soul ever present with a basket to catch these tender blossoms as they fall. Ah, God! it is a dreadful thought that these immortal words should go down into the dreamless dust uncherished. I loved to think, as I put the rhubarb into the saucepan, that years hence—P.G. many many page 71 years hence—when in the fullness of time, full of ripeness and wisdom, the Almighty sees fit to gather him into His bosom, some gentle stone-cutter living his quiet life in the little village that had known great David as a child would take a piece of fair white marble and engrave upon it two niblicks crossed and underneath:
In the hour of England's most imminent peril he grasped his Niblick and struck out for the Open Course.
But what does rather worry me, I thought, turning the gas down to a pinch as the rhubarb began to boil, is how these mighty words are to be translated so that our allies may taste the full flavour of them. Those crowds of patient Russians, waiting in the snow, perhaps, to have the speech read aloud to them—what dreadful weapon will it present to their imagination? Unless The Daily News suggests to Mr. Ransome that he walk down the Nevsky Prospekt with a niblick instead of an umbrella for all the world to see. And the French—what espèce de Niblickisme will they make of it. Shall we read in the French papers next week of someone qui manque de niblick. Or that “Au milieu de ces évènements si graves ce qu'il nous faut c'est du courage, de l'espoir et du niblick le plus ferme….” I wondered, taking off the rhubarb.
A Victorian Idyll.
Yesterday Matilda Mason
In the Parlour by herself
Broke a Handsome China Basin
Placed upon the Mantelshelf.
You picture Matilda in a little check dress, puce shoulder ties, muslin pantalettes, black sandals, and a pound of rich glossy curls held in place by a velvet band. She tip-toes about the parlour, among the what-nots and antimacassars and embroidery frames and Mamma's workbox with the ivory fittings, and Papa's music stand with the pearl studded flute lying across it…. How did she come to be in the parlour by herself? Rash, foolish child! Why was she not sitting upon a bead hassock in the nursery conning over one of those amiable little tunes for infants from one and a half to three years (Charles: Pray, dear papa! what is the Solar System? Papa: Wipe your nose, Charles, and I will tell you) or embroidering God is Love in red upon a night-dress case for her dear Mamma?
She had parted her Papa's Piccadilly weepers, had been strained to his flashing bosom before he dashed off to that mysterious place, the City, where ladies feared to tread; her Mamma, having seen the doctor's gig draw up at number twelve, had put on her second best pair of jet ear-rings, wrapped herself in her second best cashmere shawl and taken a flask of eau-de-cologne….
1 A brass frog which was one of Katherine Mansfield's treasured possessions.